Re-Introducing Warhol

by Ruairí McCann and Maximilien Luc Proctor
banner image by Eímear McCann

texts edited by Forrest Cardamenis, Ruairí McCann and Maximilien Luc Proctor

During a lecture conducted at The Whitney for a 2018/19 retrospective on Andy Warhol, the writer J. Hoberman illustrated the difficulty in imparting Warhol’s importance as a filmmaker with an anecdote. He recalled a pro bono gig which required him to travel around Pittsburgh, Warhol’s home turf, enticing its wealthy residents into supporting a fund for building and maintaining a local museum dedicated to the artist. He found that it was easier to grab attention – and therefore donations – by touting the typical tagline on Warhol: that he was the most important American artist of the twentieth century, emphasizing his paintings and silkscreens but not his movies.

Warhol’s cinema hasn’t made the same dent in the public lexicon and memory as his soup cans or persona, and yet from his turn to filmmaking in 1963 through the slew of films that would follow, he would rattle the foundations of the medium as much as he did the art world. Cinema’s metaphysics: the who, hows and whys of making a film were put into suspension and reassembled by his work. And while harping on about the conceptual importance of his films, it’s easy to diminish their sumptuous materiality. The pleasure of watching the particular bodies and places he placed in front of the lens. The vividity of the 16mm film grain and those lives and aura that were wrapped up in it. 


Eat, Sleep, Kiss, Fuck… Warhol went about capturing the simple reality of the basest human activities. It is surprising that Warhol had not already made a film called Smoke, but instead left the opportunity to Benning almost 50 years later with Twenty Cigarettes. Warhol’s minimalistic approach to cinema demarcated a rebirth for the entirety of the moving-image form: at a time when the medium was exploding into a vibrant and parallel counter-culture life in the hands of amateur experimentalists, Warhol managed to build a body of film work which sat comfortably within the avant-garde while walking the form back to its indexical Lumière roots. 

As Peter Gidal put it: “…eternity is felt in three minutes in a Warhol film.”

Despite the significant volume of writing on the topic of Andrew Warhola Jr.’s work, it is all too easy to ‘miss the point’: that there is no point to any of it. And yet that is where the most meaning resides. Because our response to the work will always be entirely subjective by design, one need not defend the decision to approach the films anew, or to ask new writers to spill some (virtual) ink on the subject. In doing so, we sought to assemble a modest dossier which toes the line between formal analysis and personal musings, sincere response and impersonal observation. 


Special thanks to Forrest Cardamenis for his swift precision in editing the texts, for though his direct writing does not appear in this dossier, the final project is a much stronger whole thanks to his efforts. 


I: Narrative

II: Portraits

III: Color


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